Ofsted can expect a funding increase under a Conservative government to allow it to carry out less data-driven school inspections, it emerged this week.
Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, told The TES he thought the watchdog would need more resources to look at schools in greater depth and carry out its increased children's services responsibilities.
"My inclination would be to provide Ofsted with those resources," he said. "One of the problems is that inspections have been too reliant on already published data."
Ofsted's general reliance on data for its inspections came under the microscope this week because of its contradictory verdicts on Haringey Council children's services following the baby P scandal.
A data-based inspection conducted more than a year after baby P's death, concluded the authority was delivering a "good" service.
But this week Ofsted delivered a fresh and this time damning verdict on the same council department, findings that led directly to the dismissal of its director on Tuesday.
Asked about the discrepancy between the two reports, Beverley Hughes, children's minister, said the first verdict was based only on data. "The evidence presented by Haringey in that annual performance assessment in 2007 was based on data which, frankly, Ofsted inspectors told us was completely wrong," she said.
But Ofsted is planning to extend the same interim data-based "health check" approach to schools.
This week the Government announced its plans for a Children, Skills and Learning Bill which will allow Ofsted to publish a health check statement on schools every three years after a good or outstanding school has been inspected.
The checks form part of Ofsted's plan to only inspect high performing schools every six years instead of every three.
The proposed new system, to be introduced in September 2009, would also see inspectors spending more time observing lessons during inspections and placing more emphasis on low performing schools.
The Commons schools select committee is to quiz Christine Gilbert, Ofsted chief inspector, on the use of data in inspections next week. Barry Sheerman, committee chairman, said he was concerned about the use of the approach for schools and children's services.
"What has come out of the baby P case is that there is no substitute for getting on the ground, talking to people and finding out what human beings are actually doing," the Labour MP said.
"The great danger is that there are too many people out there sending emails and looking at computer screens."
But John Chowcat, general secretary of Aspect, the union representing the majority of Ofsted inspectors, said: "I don't think inspections are too data driven.
"The training and practice of inspectors means that they are capable of actually embracing in their judgments a wider range of factors than the hard data."
An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "We know that you cannot get behind issues like safeguarding by just looking at statistics.
"In addition to looking at data, such as exam results, there are many elements Ofsted considers during a school inspection."
NEW SEARCH POWERS GIVEN TO SCHOOLS
Unlike recent education acts which have heralded major changes such as raising the compulsory education and training age to 18, the Children, Skills and Learning Bill has no single focus.
The legislation, revealed in this week's Queens' speech, will be a disparate collection of new laws needed to tie up a wide variety of pre- announced initiatives.
One of the most significant relates to 16-19 education, with funding and responsibility transferred from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities and an expended apprenticeship scheme. Other measures include:
- Powers for schools to search pupils for alcohol, drugs and stolen goods.
- Giving the schools secretary the power to force local authorities to issue low performing schools with formal warning notices
- A new negotiating pay body set up for school support staff
- A requirement that all secondary schools work in Behaviour Improvement Partnerships.